Thursday, September 28, 2006

Digital Music Democracy

I wouldn't call it democracy, quite like the Digital Music Weblog does. Apparently, there hasn't been a very good system for creating top-40 lists or top-20 lists for singles, since most music is bought in album form. According to a BBC article,

"The current chart is actually fairly arbitrary," says Top 40 analyst James Masterton, who writes for Yahoo Music.

"A number of songs that are selling strongly have been removed."

For example, Nelly Furtado's hit song Maneater should still be in the Top 40 this week - but, because the CD is no longer available in shops, the song has been dropped from the chart.

I don't think digital downloads are necessarily going to democratize best-seller lists, just because searchability and easier production don't really impact taste. There will always be a "short head," as Chris Anderson likes to put it, and a "long tail." But it will definitely allow lesser-known (or one-hit wonders) to rise to the top of those charts, simply because people are OK risking $1 on a song they might not like, rather than spend $15 on an entire album without much guarantee of quality. And, like BBC says, the top-40 will be much more accurate.

Lessig on Hybrid Economies

I really liked Larry Lessig's post on the multiple economies that we interact with. There's the traditional, "I work for money" economy (e.g. most people's jobs), and then the non-commercial, "I work because I want to" economy (e.g. Wikipedia). Regarding these two economies,

Having now seen the extraordinary value of this second economy, I think most would agree we need to think lots about how best to encourage it — what techniques are needed to call it into life, how is it sustained, what makes it flourish. I don’t think anyone knows exactly how to do it well. Those living in real second economy communities (such as Wikipedia) have a good intuition about it.

But a second and also extremely difficult problem is how, or whether, the economies can be linked. Is there a way to cross over from the commercial to second economy? Is there a way to manage a hybrid economy — one that tries to manage this link.

Though Lessig goes on to advocate new copyright standards as a solution for managing the "hybrid" economies, I think it's more of a cultural distinction. Many people in our society feel torn between doing what they need to do for survival (economy 1) and doing what they are passionate about for their life - this gap causes the second economy, which allows people to interact outside of their normal work life.

I think that the double-economy phenomenon is a temporary symptom of a drastic change in American culture. A new wave of college graduates feel entitled to do what they are passionate about in life - even white collar, well-paying jobs are no longer satisfying. Other people are forced into or stuck in jobs they don't care about - and have more opportunities to explore their interests outside (or during) work. The symptom will disappear when new business models emerge that allow people do follow their interests, rather than simply their wallet. Utopian and idealistic? Perhaps, but until this conflict gets resolved, we'll always have two distinct economies that will never become a hybrid.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Barenaked Ladies Prove Labels Aren't Necessary

I'm not going to say that I'm a big Barenaked Ladies fan. But I am a big fan of the ways they've gone about distributing their music:

  • They give away ProTools files via MySpace to let people make their own mixes
  • They don't use major labels for marketing/distribution
  • They own rights to their work
  • They sell much more than CD's - digital downloads (different versions), concert tickets, packed USB drives, licensing to TV etc.
And it's going pretty well for them, bringing as much as $5 of revenue per disc sold, which has brought nearly $1M to the band. This seems like a much more natural way to sell music - creating something and letting others do what they want with it. Music moves beyond something people sit and listen to, becoming something they can interact with and make better for themselves (and others). Art is not just in the eye/hear of the beholder - it's in the hands too. And that's where it's the most valuable.

Baby Toupee

I know it's off topic, but wasn't this an SNL sketch?

Thanks, Boing Boing...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ellaine's Birthday Pubwalk

This is one of the reasons I like Google maps and open API's. Thanks pubwalk!

Transparent Spending

About a month ago, I posted praises for the Coburn-Obama bill, asking for a website that lets people see how the federal government spends money. Today it was signed! Bush says,

This bill is going to create a website that will list the federal government's grants and contracts. It's going to be a website that the average citizen can access and use. It will allow Americans to log onto the Internet just to see how your money is being spent. This bill will increase accountability and reduce incentives for wasteful spending.
I think that regardless of politics, this is something everyone can get behind. And more importantly, it democratizes democracy, giving all Americans easy-to-use tools to get more information. I can't wait to see what happens now that this info is public!

Open Facebook

I don't know why people complain about Facebook opening itself up to everyone - the more open, the better! Plus, like Zuck said on NPR - it's not like they're changing their privacy rules.

TechCrunch has this covered describing the new privacy features:

  • Block other users in specific networks from searching for his or her name.
  • Prevent people in those networks from messaging, poking and adding him or her as a friend.
  • Control whether his or her profile picture shows up in search results.

Wireless 2.0 - 4G or WiFi (or Both?)

Several articles have come through today about the next generation of wireless networking. The New York Times has great article about Samsung's 4G network, built to deliver 1 Gbps. GigaOm reports that UMA (Unlicensed Mobile Access) companies are partnering together to help devices transition between cellular and WiFi.

It seems silly to build so many networks. There's the power grid, the phone grid, the cable grid, a couple cellular grids, wireless/WiFi/WiMax grids, fiber-optic grids. The problem is that they're so expensive to build that companies want to milk revenues for as long as possible - even if it means limiting their own innovation.

This is why technology like UMA is so important, because it allows people to use their devices on many of these networks, consolidating them from the eyes of the consumer. Seamless transition will be important, not only for companies who don't want to abandon their older networks, but also for consumers who want as fast and universal access as possible without needing to switch devices/networks or own multiple devices to access them.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Clash on Music Industry

In a recent interview with the Guardian, former Clash/Pink Floyd manager Peter Jenner stated:

The current record company model might well morph into that of venture capitalist licensors, working in partnership with artists to develop their businesses.
Grant Robertson at the Digital Music Weblog didn't like this, saying "You can help give down and out industry executives the chance to have that much needed eyelift... Each month you'll receive a letter from your industry executive, detailing his or her progress and exactly how your money has helped them maintain their lifestyle.

I'm not sure this is what Jenner is trying to say. What I would envision is people who know the music industry (especially as it's changed) inside and out can help bands that they like market themselves. It could look like artists like Beck or producers like Brian Eno, who have done an excellent job navigating the changing music world, reaching out to younger artists to help them by sharing experiences. Sure, the experienced guy is going to take a cut - but in the long run, everyone wins. At least, that's how successful VC's work.

Free Simpsons!

I truly hope that this site doesn't get to publicized - only a couple blogs have caught it so far (didn't realize anyone still watched rocketboom). Anyway, there's this cool site that just plays every Simpsons episode - for free!

I'm sure it won't last - it can't be legal. But it does have a lot going for it:

  • Simple to use & navigate
  • Video quality is poor (less likely to watch on actual TV, less likely to anger Fox)
  • Easy to link to individual episodes
Hopefully studios/networks will look to what makes this sort of thing popular (beyond free), and can start using those principles to make on-demand content available to consumers. Maybe if each show had its own simple site that was easy to find, navigate, and link to?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

[Games] On Demand

Retrieving content on demand/online is not a new concept by any means. From news (web sites), music (Napster -> iTunes/Rhapsody), and video (Comcast, YouTube), it would be hard to argue that the distribution isn't revolutionary. There's a great article on GigaOm about Video Games on demand that reminded me about something I've thinking about for a while.

I was talking with a friend of mine the other day about the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD battle. We quickly agreed with each other that:

  1. Fighting over standards benefits nobody
  2. Neither of us will buy a player until a "winner" emerges
  3. 3) By the time (2) happens, the technology will be obsolete.
The only benefit we could really find for the medium at all, in fact, was for storing massive amounts of data that needed to be physically delivered to someone else - not for watching movies. To complicate this even further, it seems like there is a growing resentment about physical goods like DVD's. There have been so many "new formats" that it's very difficult to talk someone into buying a new machine.

Hopefully most folks will wait out the current format war, which should probably go the way of SA-CD vs. DVD-CD. We'll buy all our movies online - and won't need to worry about which titles are available on what platform.

Friday, September 22, 2006

DRM - Why Do People Care?

Engadget's The Clicker has a nice essay on DRM today. And judging by the comments, many people feel very strongly about the issue. It's nothing new, but asks the question, "Where do people get their sense of entitlement with regard to content? At the end of the day if that's how content owners choose to sell it, isn't that their right? Isn't ours simply a choice of to buy or not to buy?"

It's a good point - copyright was created for a reason: to allow creators to sell their work. Under U.S. law, it's their choice to sell it, give it away, or Creative Commons-it. As consumers, it's our choice whether or not to buy, and laws of economics will govern their choices.

The laws of economics may or may not apply to digital content in the same way they do for tangible goods, as iTunes has found with their 99-cent pricing scheme. And there are lots of new business models emerging to handle the relatively new scenario where Marginal Costs of Production = 0.

In my opinion, we feel entitled to free access to anything where the MC = 0. As capitalists, many Americans dislike monopolies - which are the only entities that can price products above marginal costs. So by trading pirated content, consumers force the standard laws of economics. This doesn't just apply to content, but software (games, OS, etc.), a bus ride, parking, news, air at the gas station, or whatever other products exist where consumers understand that the marginal cost is essentially zero.

From the comments, however, it seems that most people dislike DRM not because it forces them to pay for music, but because it won't allow them to use it how they'd like. Maybe they're just not admitting they want to steal, but flexibility seems to be most important - so that you can listen to & manage music on any of their devices (which could rack up a lot of fixed costs for the consumer), or watch video content on things other than a computer (Tivo, etc.). Of course, Engadget commenter's are probably not a statistically balanced sample of the population!

Some of my favorite comments so far:

JAC @ Sep 22nd 2006 12:16PM

They were raping us with music CD prices and software prices before, now we have them by the balls, theyll still make loads of money, just not as much as before.

EdZ @ Sep 22nd 2006 12:17PM

They don't know they're paying the same as a CD for a file that may or may not play the next day, or at someone else's house, or on their portable player. But they'll pay anyway, because they don't know, and the seller isn't going to tell them. The buyer is agreeing to terms of which they are unaware of.

Ralph Anseus @ Sep 22nd 2006 12:23PM

You tell me. Did you pay to use the Pirate Bay logo?

Jerryg @ Sep 22nd 2006 12:27PM

The problem is that if I pay for content (music, movie, whatever) I should be able to play it, in my car, house, portable anywhere I want. I should be able to take my movie over to a friends house and watch it or take my music with me to a party and play it. If I get a new portable regardless of who makes the player, it should work it that to. Untill these things are adressed a merry pirate i shall be!

Matt @ Sep 22nd 2006 12:54PM

Let's assume that there are no grocery stores or fast food options, the owner of the overpriced gourmet restraunts have made sure of that. Then assume that you are not allowed to share a meal with any of your family or friends. Or maybe you can, but then you have to buy far more food than you really want or need including food that you don't like.

This is more comparable to the situation with digital content today. I would think that in this kind of situation, the moral qualms about not paying the restraunt owners would begin to decrease, significantly. You'd be lucky if people weren't rioting in the streets.

I'm not condoning piracy, but people are tired of the rules that the industry is forcing on them. They're tired of re-buying albums in new formats. They're tired of DRM'd files that won't play where they want them to. They're tired of having the rules dictated to them on how they can do things.

Amazon and Tivo - Unbox Boxed?

The TiVo blog this morning reports that Amazon may be distributing movies via the TiVo set top box. According to the Yahoo! report, however,

Shares of digital video recording pioneer TiVo Inc. gained in premarket trading Friday on a report it is in discussions with Inc. to create a feature that would allow consumers to automatically transfer downloaded movies to their set-top boxes.
These sorts of things always sound like a good idea up front - especially if Amazon would let you download the movies directly to your TiVo. But it sounds more like you would have to download a movie using Unbox and then transfer it to the TiVo. I tried Unbox out and wasn't impressed with the quality, selection, or overall experience when I hooked my laptop up to my HDTV. Neither was anyone else.

I don't think this will go anywhere (sorry, Zatz). I'll take a Netflix set-top instead, or a Mac iTV.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Digital Content Pricing - Pay-For-Quality?

The Digital Music Weblog, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite blogs, noted today that the Philadelphia Orchestra has started to price discriminate for digital music, based on the quality of the recording.

  • Compressed versions of major works are sold for $5. Entire concerts sell for $10.
  • Lossless formats are sold for a premium.
  • Files do not come with any DRM.
I think that this is a great approach for marketing and selling music. Outside classical music though, fans are much less concerned with the sound quality of the file - so not too many people would be willing to pay a premium for lossless formats.

However, recording companies could distribute poor-quality (radio-quality?) tunes for free so people can really judge whether they like & listen to the music. Then, when they want something good to listen to on their iPod/car/etc., they can pay for the upgrade to higher quality songs. It could be a great way to generate some buzz!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Online Travel with

I'm not sure why I haven't seen much written about this great new site someone referred me to. Maybe I'm just behind the times, but is a great travel search site.

  • Simple intro page with helpful details. The calendar displays the next two months, since people often schedule travel a month ahead of time. Cities auto-complete so typing BOS will bring up Boston or Bossaso, Somalia.
  • Displays results as they are returned. This is a nice feature because it takes a while to search so many different sites.
  • Easy search modification. Sliders let you modify departure and arrival windows, with quick results displayed. This is a very quick, intuitive feature.
There are certainly some downsides - ads are everywhere, to the point of being pretty distracting. Search results are sometimes inconsistent. But overall, it's a very useful tool that I'll continue to use until someone tells me there's something better!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Music Publishing > Music Recording

The Digital Music Weblog has a good analysis of a USA Today article describing the new trends and economics of the music business. Apparently:

  1. The recording industry, dependent on album sales, is hurting (duh)
  2. The publishing industry, which makes money when songs are reused in games, TV, movies, commercials, etc., is doing really well (interesting)
  3. Publishers still aren't happy, going after lyrics and tabs sites that "rip" content.
No one will argue that the music industry is changing, and no one seems to agree how it will change. Grant Robertson says,
It's becoming clear that performance rights, touring and merchandise sales are the driving sector within the business. We're heading towards a model where it's less likely that touring will drive record sales, and instead the Internet can drive your band's touring success.
I think that music will become a collective, social experience. The content itself will be valuable, and consumers, films, and TV shows will always buy music (unless they're paid for product-placing music - I'm not really sure who pays who here). If a band can only make singles, people will only buy the singles. If a band can make an album (like Sgt. Peppers), people will buy the album.

The most valuable part of music, however, will become the performance. Especially now, when many music fans are sick of lip-syncing, well-marketed personalities, the true musicians will put on amazing shows that bring people together in a real-life setting. This experience is what makes people shell out over $100 for U2 tickets - and to see their favorite MySpace band in action.

I'm also struck by the fact that publishers want money for lyrics that are simply printed in their album covers. They should be distributed digitally alongside iTunes purchases!

MyBlogLog Fun Tools

I haven't seen much from many of my favorite blogs about this cool site called MyBlogLog (actually, I only heard about it from Praxis). It's a site that is similar to Feedburner or Technorati in that it tries to create a community of bloggers my offering cool tools - and they're all about the numbers. Feedburner gives people metrics on how many people subscribe to their blog. Technorati tells you how many blogs link to you.

MyBlogLog shows daily reports of the number of page views, where people come from to view the site, and what they click on. A couple things surprised me:

  • Just about everyone came from Google (as opposed to other search engines)
  • People on Google sometimes go through a couple pages of results
  • Just naming posts something close to what someone might search for could get you on Google's first page of results
I think MyBlogLog could be pretty successful because it's good for the small guys. If you're not in the Alexa Top 100(000), you're not going to get much help from Technorati. Feedburner's pretty limited, at least as far as its free service. But this one could do pretty well - especially if they can find incentives for people to participate in its community features.

FON's $5 Router - La Fonera

I've always liked FON. Any company that encourages people to share with others (and let them make money too, if they want) is a good one in my book. To make it even better, they're helping to build an ever-present wireless Internet by encouraging everyone to activate their hotspots.

By selling a $5 router, FON can encourage even customers to build out a base of more wireless access points, which really just benefits everybody. According to GigaOm, it will allow people to create two wireless channels - one public, and one private. This should ease folks over any security fears, and help the company get some critical mass. It might also help folks like me who don't need to buy a new FON-compatible router, but for $5 are happy to join in the fun.

And I'd be a Linus with it...

What About the West?

AWS is now over. The latest spectrum auction of wireless frequencies pulled $14 billion from wireless companies (for essentially the air), though the results were somewhat surprising. T-Mobile came out on top, buying about 50% more than any other carrier - even though their cellular footprint is much smaller (currently No. 4).

What surprised me most, however, was the geographic distribution of the wireless spectrum. According to GigaOm:

  1. Verizon Wireless was very active in Auction 66, securing 13 licenses in the Northeast, Southeast, Great Lakes, Mississippi Valley and Louisiana.
  2. T-Mobile was aggressive in acquiring spectrum licenses in the North East of US.
My question: where's the love for the West coast? I would think companies like these would love to roll out the latest and greatest to us early adopters first! Where else do execs tote their newest Treos and Blackberry's with pride? It seems to me that this is where ideas are made - so building your customer base here first should be the way to go.

Or maybe I'm just upset because I won't automatically get better service.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Internet vs. "Traditional" Media

Jerry Brito argues today over at TCS Daily that the Internet will cause the demise of "traditional" or mainstream media, citing social, technical, and economic forces:

Watching television is a passive activity. To be entertained, you don't have to do much more than turn on the TV and surf until something good comes up. If there were no channels to surf, only thousands of programs you could call up on demand, how would you know what to watch? Even if shows are available for download online, consumers appreciate the effortlessness of a boob tube with its preset package of a couple hundred channels.
This is quickly becoming VERY untrue. No one likes to channel surf - mainly because there is no filter to separate good content from the bad. Only word-of-mouth can help people decide what to watch. On the Internet, Netflix- and Digg-like recommendations will bring new programs to viewers' attention. Add time-shifting with TiVo to the mix, and channel surfing will go the way of the cassette tape.
Delivering high-quality live video over the public Internet to massive audiences is not yet technically feasible and may never be given the architecture of the Net. Moreover, Internet video streaming does not compare to the clarity and quality of a traditional television picture and it is also is very expensive to originate.
That's very shortsighted, especially given rapidly expanding fiber-optic networks across the world. Soon, there will be no difference between content delivered over traditional cable and IP - in fact, IP options will be able to provide much more HD content than what digital cable can provide today.

At some point, there are only so many hours a day that media and entertainment can fulfill. And if Internet-enabled options are more attractive than traditional television, it's going to take away from mainstream TV time.

Nothing Is "Private" on the Internet

After some discussion regarding good "Internet Names," I decided to do some quick google searches on myself. Not the usual first & last name, but also email aliases, AIM names, etc. I quickly found that everything I've ever posted online is very available to anyone. This included Amazon reviews, comments on notable blogs, and profiles on websites (like Cork' or

I started to wonder whether or not this bothered me. For one, anyone (employers, friends, enemies) could dig up lots of information about what I think and say - and potentially use it against me. What does this mean? Here's a top-5 for controlling your own comments and "privacy":

  1. Act like whatever you say/post will be published on the front page of the New York Times. This is an old rule-of-thumb ethics test that really applies to online contributions. Be prepared to have anyone and everyone view what you say, without it embarrassing you.
  2. Don't post anything in anger. It's very difficult to retract angry comments you make in real life. Doing so online can be at least as difficult, and you don't want to post anything you regret.
  3. Don't post anything under the influence. For similar reasons as number (2), it's important to have a sober mindset while posting something online. There should be a "PUI" rule stating that you can't Post Under the Influence.
  4. Select a good Internet name. If everything you do online is categorized under an alias that cannot be associated with your real name, then it's hard to map online comments to your online self. It's important to make sure that these are never associated with your real name (i.e. a single page doesn't list your AIM as funnyboy365 right next to your real name, Gilbert Androssi).
  5. Use good language. Nothing's worse than having examples of your poor writing all over the Internet. It's embarrassing, so be proud of what you put out there!
Nothing is private, except stuff like Credit Card numbers & banking - I'm very glad that didn't come up on Google! If you say something - anything - you should mean it and be prepared to defend it. So add content at your own risk!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Just a Great Essay On TiVo and Cable Co's

From Engadget's The Clicker:

Make no mistake about it -- TiVo and cable are not friends. Cable views TiVo as not only a threat to its large rental revenue but also as endangering the billions of dollars they expect to come from add on services (PPV, music and DVD purchases, etc.). There is no way that they're going to open their arms and help the process. The best we can hope for is that shame, public perception, and the FCC will keep them close to honest. In the meantime, it's fun to watch them both pretend they're like BFF. It's a little like watching the Simple Life -- one, drunk with power, and the other doing its best to hold on to the spotlight.
See the whole post! It's good, but I don't necessarily agree with all of it. I love to see companies that are not direct competitors work well together. Cable's core business is really wires to homes, combined with distributing media content over the wires. Tivo's business is allowing customers to control their media as they wish. That's what people pay those companies for.

I do appreciate the FCC's role in promoting and enforcing cable card technology. But the cable companies need to realize how much value could be created just by working together - many people have upgraded their service for TiVo. More people will want more HD programming with TiVo series 3 - playing nice would be win-win-win for everyone.

T-Mobile Can Win By Opening Up

When I read Ars Technica's report about T-Mobile's upcoming cell-to-WiFi service, this stood out:

Early reports are that consumers will only be able to use the dual-mode phone service on their home WiFi networks at first. Our sources tell us that there appears to be no such limitation either with the phones or the T-Mobile At Home service. The dual-mode phones currently being tested are able to switch seamlessly between the cell network and any WiFi network that the user has access to, including nearly 8,000 T-Mobile HotSpots and secured wireless networks.
I keep forgetting that T-Mobile has WiFi hotspots in every Starbucks - and there are a lot of those. Especially in densely-populated cities like San Francisco, where there's a Starby's on every corner, T-Mobile isn't too far away from ubiquitous wireless coverage. That means that these WiFi/cellular devices could have all sorts of IP-enabled applications, and have enough access points to make them fairly useful (with cellular as a roaming backup for voice).

If T-Mobile opened up this technology to share with any device manufacturer/cellular provider, then lots of folks could take advantage of this - and pay T-Mobile for it.

Silicon Valley Gets Wireless 2.0

The New York Times and CrunchGear have reported some news that has made my day - bringing ever-present wireless Internet to the Silicon Valley, perhaps as soon as early-2007.

  • I.B.M and Cisco will create the infrastucture to build 1500 square miles of wireless coverage for 2.4 million residents.
  • Basic service will be free, faster service will cost a monthly fee.
  • Special equipment may be necessary to bring service into the home.
  • Cities are free to invite rival wireless carriers (e.g. Google/Earthlink in SF, Clearwire).
  • Providers may charge extra for VOIP calls.
This is great news for everyone who lives in the bay area. For most, DSL will become obsolete, as the wireless service will provide sufficient bandwidth to replace existing service. People will be able to access the service everywhere, not just in their own homes. Once nationalized, this can not only replace DSL, but cellular as well. I've called this Wireless 2.0.

I like that companies and governments across the country are seeing the value of ubiquitous Internet access, and are taking action upon themselves rather than waiting for Telco's to catch up. I can't wait until applications start to take advantage of this kind of functionality, reducing all of our dependencies on cell phones for mobile computing. Mobile versions of Google Maps and other localized services could actually start being useful once they're removed from the cellular world.

Amazon Unbox vs. Apple iMovie

The facts (rumors?):

  • Apple's Movie Download Service iMovie is expected to be announced on Sept 12.
  • iMovie should allow movie purchase for $10-15.
  • Amazon's Movie Service Unbox is expected to launch today, Sept 7.
  • Unbox should offer movie rentals at $4 and purchases for $15, as well as TV show purchases for $2.
  • Apple should offer Disney movies (including Miramax and Lion's Gate). Amazon gets just about everyone else: Warner Bros., Fox, Paramount, MGM, Lionsgate, Sony and Universal.
What I think:
iTunes clearly has the marketing advantage. They have a strong iTunes user base (understatement of the year) to offer the iMovie service to, and as rumor has it, a wide-screen video iPod is coming to show the movies on. Apple has proven that they can sell media downloads with sufficient protection and has users trained to do so via iTunes.

Amazon has an uphill battle to fight, but has one thing in their advantage: rentals. Though DVD sales has been strong, most people prefer to rent. Like I've said before, music is great to buy since people listen to it over and over. Movies are different because you don't - you're not going to watch anything hundreds of times. Being the first to actually offer Internet rentals will give Amazon an advantage over others like iTunes, or Netflix.

I'll try them both, and there are many other factors to consider like picture quality, audio quality, and DRM. But the next few months will be great for trying out new products - like Netflix's set top box and TiVo Series 3.

UPDATE: Zatz gives us a preliminary review of Unbox. I'll need to check it out this weekend.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

OK GO at the VMA's

It's not often on a Tuesday night that I turn on the television and have MTV as the first channel I see. Even less likely that I feel the need for such a strong dose of pop culture that I watch what's currently on - the VMA's (video music awards). But tonight, prompted by my appreciation for the well-chosen Jack Black to host the show, I watched it.

The first hour or so was typical. But then Chris Brown came on stage to announce OK GO (who I was first exposed to by Stephen Colbert),

These next performers recently put the video on the web and within weeks, they had over like 3 million hits. But the budget was, maybe, bout $4.99.
I love what OK GO has been able to do. They have been one of the first artists or groups to propel themselves through the viral market to hit mainstream success, having a choice spot in the VMA's. They didn't need a major label or distributor. They didn't need a large production studio. They instead took advantage of democratized tools of production and distribution, posted their low-budget videos on YouTube, and let the fans do the rest of the work.

OK GO still needed talent to be able to do what they did. The music is catchy and fun, and the videos are great - Chris Anderson called it the best treadmill music video ever made, which is a huge understatement. What impresses me most is that they could do their Treadmill video live on MTV (posted on YouTube within minutes, shown below). Definite talent. And it speaks volumes for the crowd's ability to filter the signal from the noise.

There is a lot of junk out there, but it is very encouraging that everybody now has the tools to pick the winners without (old?) MTV culture decide for us.

Movie List for iTunes

CrunchGear has the first list of movies to appear on the new iTunes movie store. I'll certainly be trying this out, but Apple will have to prove excellent movie quality before I start going to buy rather than rent. Even high-quality streaming video really doesn't look great on a 50" TV.

From Walt Disney Pictures: James and the Giant Peach, Pocahontas, The Lion King, Aladdin, Chicken Little, Herbie: Fully Loaded, Sky High, Ice Princess, National Treasure, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

From Disney/Pixar: Toy Story, Toy Story 2, Toy Story 3 (?), A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Cars.

From Miramax: Cold Mountain, The Hours, Chicago, Cinderella Man, Scary Movie 1,2,3 and 4.

From Touchstone Pictures: The Royal Tenenbaums, Pearl Harbor, The Sixth Sense (with Hollywood Pictures), Unbreakable, Gone in Sixty Seconds, Shanghai Noon, Deuce Bigalow Male Gigolo, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, King Arthur, Hidalgo, Open Range, Signs, Reign of Fire.

Apart from Disney and Pixar, Lion’s Gate Entertainment will make the following, mostly horror, movies available: American Psycho, Dogma, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Pi, Requiem for a Dream, Open Water, Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights, The Punisher, Fahrenheit 9/11, Crash, Alone in the Dark, Hostel, Saw 1 and 2.

Monday, September 04, 2006

iTunes Pricing

There's been more conversation over at the Digital Music Weblog about Apple's insistence on keep downloads fixed at 99 cents. Grant had made the audacious proclamation that supply and demand doesn't apply to digital music. It's certainly an interesting stance, and I certainly think Apple should hold on to the stance, though not for economic reasons. But it still isn't really true.

If I'm selling a song on iTunes, it costs me no more to sell the 1001st song than it does the 1000th. Same goes for the 10,001st, 100,001st and millionth +1 copy. That's what I mean when I say that supply and demand doesn't apply. I didn't have to build a larger distribution network for my millionth sale than I did my 100th, and if I only sold 101 copies, I didn't lose money by building a larger distribution network than I already had. I never had to lose in the act of guessing how large an audience I could build. And furthermore, the cost of doing that a second time is no greater than the cost of the first time, nor is it burdened with the debts of my first try.
It is certainly true that the marginal cost of selling songs in the digital world is completely flat (let's assume for argument that it's >0, so that this line of thinking holds up). And normally, in a perfect competitive world, Price = Marginal Cost. So, if the MC is the same for all songs, then it may follow that Price would hold constant at the same level.

But there are two other factors still at work here. The first is monopoly. Copyright holders for music have a monopoly on the music they sell. There's no true free market as long as there is copyright. Otherwise, MC really does equal 0 in the digital realm (see Napster), and the price would drop to zero.

The other factor is Willingness To Pay. If Person A has a WTP for the new Christina Aguilera track of $3.00, and Person B would only pay $0.50, then the record company (or iTunes) would want to sell Person A 1 copy rather than a copy of each to us at $0.50. So as long as the demand curve has a normal shape, at least for a particular track, meaning that the price for different songs in a perfect market would vary, since it would be a fairly obvious assumption that demand for some songs would be greater than demand for another.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Why Is Google Image Labeler Fun?

Google's trying to improve its search results for images. Since those folks know that computers can't really understand what is in an image, it's asking people to do it for them, taking crowdsourcing, to a new extreme. The Google Image Labeler site shows,

You'll be randomly paired with a partner who's online and using the feature. Over a 90-second period, you and your partner will be shown the same set of images and asked to provide as many labels as possible to describe each image you see. When your label matches your partner's label, you'll earn some points and move on to the next image until time runs out. After time expires, you can explore the images you've seen and the websites where those images were found. And we'll show you the points you've earned throughout the session.
Of course I tried it. It was fun for the 90 seconds. Me and Raider2044 got 2100 points - though I'm not sure why that didn't show up on the leader board. I can't imagine why anyone would want to do this for too long though, especially long enough to get 91300 points. Maybe people like seeing their 'net name published on a Google site.

iTunes' 99-Cent Rule

Music industry execs, for a long time, have been fighting Apple to soften their fixed-price rule for songs. Currently, every track on iTunes sells for 99 cents. The music execs argue that popular songs are worth more than less-popular songs, so consumers should be charged more for them. This is simple supply-and-demand, and most Economics-101 students would agree with this line of reasoning - variable pricing can be good for everyone.

The Digital Music Weblog has a great take on this though, defending Apple:

I've said this before. A buck a tune works on a very simple level for most music buyers. It's easy to equate one thing with another; One buck? one tune. When you bring a sophisticated "black box" price structure to a service like iTunes, you increase the amount of decision making required for the user to make a purchase.

99 cent downloads make the purchase a clear choice, which simplifies the buying decision. When you introduce a more sophisticated pricing structure to the mix, the music fan is forced to have a more complex internal dialogue.

Do I like this song? What price is it? Is it worth the premium? Maybe I should just wait until it's 99 cents like the other songs I bought. If I buy this higher priced song, does that affect the number of songs I can buy in total?

The true fact of the matter is, supply and demand law doesn't apply to digital downloads. I _know_ that song will still be there if I come back later. Applying a tiered pricing structure to digital downloads applies a false market force to the equation; consumers have grown smarter about the methods used to fleece them.
I'm not sure if I completely agree. But it is interesting to see how notable Long-Tail markets (like Apple and Netflix) have had a lot of success with fixed pricing, where "premium" or "hit" content doesn't carry a premium fee.

Blogger Update - Sorry

Apparently when I moved to the new Blogger platform, it re-published many previous posts. Sorry for those who had their readers clogged.

Movies on iTunes

The rumor mills are abuzz with chatter about news that iTunes will start offering movies for download by the end of 2006, at prices ranging from $10 to $15. Apparently this has been "confirmed" by Business Week. TechCrunch says,

Apple is pushing for, and apparently getting, $14 wholesale movie prices on new releases. They plan to retail new releases for $14.99 and older movies for $9.99. Normal wholesale DVD prices are $17. Walmart pays that normal wholesale rate, and now anticipates losing a significant share of their 40% market share in the $17 billion annual DVD market. Given that it will be trivial for iTunes users to simply burn a DVD of these movie downloads, Walmart has good reason to be worried. Netflix should be nervous, too.
Being able to purchase movies online will be great - and many folks will probably go out and purchase a Mac Mini [UPDATE: new and improved Mac Mini] that they can hook up their iTunes downloads to their huge HDTV's pretty easily. And when they add HD movies, the endless debate over HD-DVD and Blu-ray will go the way of the Laserdisc. But Apple still needs to prove that people want to actually purchase (rather than rent) movies.

Music is great to sell outright because most people listen to songs over and over again. Movies are very different - with few exceptions, most people watch each movie once or twice. And while no one will argue the success of DVD-sales, it remains to be seen whether the rental business model or actual sales will prove most successful. Apple doesn't seem to like offering subscription, at least for music, but maybe they can make an exception for movies.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Faster Than WiMax: Samsung 4G

On the heels of Sprint's announcement that they will roll out a nation-wide WiMax 802.16 network, which would be capable of download speeds up to 4 Mbps, Samsung announced their 4G would provide blazing speeds of 1 Gbps:

The bus was moving at 60kmph - which you rarely see in real life - but it was proof enough, the Korean giant boasted, as the demonstration included handover between cells. 1Gbit/s is 50 times faster than the current Mobile WiMAX specification, 802.16e. At walking pace, the demonstration moved bits at 1GB/s.
The faster, the better.

Coburn-Obama: Bringing Transparency To Everyone

More than a few blogs today have ousted Sen. Ted Stevens as placing a 'secret hold' on a bill that would publish a full account of how the government spends money. According to the AAPD:

Coburn/Obama bill requires the creation of a single, searchable website – available to the public at no cost to access – that will allow American taxpayers to search for comprehensive data about how their money is spent. The Coburn/Obama bill has already received the overwhelming support of more than 70 organizations of all ideological affiliations across the country.
Forgetting about many people's feelings for this particular Senator, I'm intrigued about what people could do with access to this online repository of information. Its obvious intention is to "democratize democracy," giving people immediate access to exactly what the government is doing.

But by publishing this information on the web, it gives people freedom to analyze it in ways most government officials would never have thought possible. Ingenuous Americans would be able to analyze all sorts of data, comparing it in ways that are useful to voters, not politicians.
Maybe that's what scares Mr. Stevens.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Singapore Gets Wireless 2.0

Singapore is about to improve their communications infrastructure, widening the gap between many nations and the United States (currently 16th in broadband penetration). As Boing Boing reports, SingTel plans to roll out nation-wide WiFi service.

Singapore already had one public hot spot for every square kilometer at the end of last year. Communication between hot spots will be augmented by mesh networking, according to the Intelligent Nation report. Commercial WiMax--a wireless standard that allows signals to travel over longer distances than those using Wi-Fi--will begin in Singapore by the end of the year, said Chang.
Clearly there is a huge amount of value that companies can generate by providing this kind of service. Though this is starting to catch on in the U.S., there's still a long way to catch up.

Tivo Series 3 - Almost Here!

Though most people will balk at the estimated $800, HD Beat brings us some good news. Thanks to Todd, we hear that,

TiVo Series 3 might be out of beta soon and is now showing up in their system. According to the computer It is scheduled to be in stock on September 17th with a Best Buy SKU of 7974418 (UPC of 400079744186 and Model TCD648250B). The price is listed at $799, but the street date field is blank. We're hoping that means we have less than 30 days to get our hands on the hottest HDTV DVR yet.
While the box and specs look great, and most people will enjoy HD recording and dual-cable card support, I'm more curious with what else Tivo will be able to do. They should take some cues from YouTube and find ways to let users send content to Tivo and the Tivo community.

Few other brands can generate as much excitement as Tivo does (I went to a packed Tivo Valentines Party earlier this year). If users could have ways to create their own applications that Tivo could run, Tivo may find that more people would be more willing to shell out $800 for their new box.

Friday, August 25, 2006

It's Crumbelievable: Colbert's Long Tail

Stephen Colbert's show, the Colbert Report, has gotten amazingly smart. The other night, he ran segments titled "It's Crumbelievable," focusing on today's pop culture and how it's much more fragmented today thanks to falling costs of production and distribution.

He talked about the commercials that used to define American culture, and how the top-rated show has fallen from 62% of all viewers (I Love Lucy, in 1950), to just 25% (CSI, today). He also discussed OK Go's phenomenal videos (Google Video), but Colbert made the point to highlight the variety of user-created content reusing them.

There's no one band we all love, no one newsman we can all trust/believe is a subversive. There's not even one video game, where we all close our eyes, we can still see the shapes falling.

The greatest danger to pop culture today is the Internets [sic]. Hundreds of thousands of self-proclaimed celebrities grab for the brass ring of our attention...
Colbert's segments further proclaim the virtues of Chris Anderson's principle of the Long Tail, and how it keeps getting flatter. Now that content creators can circumvent the control of the music industry (video, publishing, games, etc.) using the newer democratic tools of production, we'll get to see a lot more creativity that people actually want to see, as clearly evidenced by the fan-created OK Go videos.

(Update: Thanks Chris Anderson! I'm glad you liked the segment too!)


I Want Google's Problems

Apparently Google has so much cash, it needs an SEC exemption from being classified as an Investment Bank. It's difficult to imagine what one could do with $10 Billion in liquid assets, but it makes it easier to imagine a GoogleNet!

(Thanks GMSV!)

Cooperative Companies

Increasing numbers of companies and organization are beginning to see how the value of cooperation can be far greater than direct competition. From mash-up sites and Web 2.0 to AT&T-Yahoo!, survival in the tech world is dependent on a company's ability to play nice and work with others.

Crunch (TechCrunch, MobileCrunch, CrunchNotes, CrunchBoard - they need an umbrella name) gets this. They recently launched a great jobs site for tech work, along with a couple other notable blogs 37signals and GigaOm. Michael Arrington wanted to cooperate:

The first thing we did when we decided to start building CrunchBoard was ping Jason Fried at 37 Signals to talk to him about partnering with their job board. I imagined an API for entering jobs, and an API for outputting jobs, that could be displayed anywhere. Jason didn't want to partner beyond having me post his listing on TechCrunch, so we built our own.

When I realized Om was building yet another job board I told him flat out I wanted to partner with him, offering to make CrunchBoard a new company and splitting equity with him 50/50. Hell, we could even rename it to something more neutral. Given that TechCrunch has more traffic than GigaOm right now, and that we had already built and launched the board, I thought that was a fair offer.

Om passed on my proposal, and I'’m sure he has his reasons. But in my mind, this is all a very web 1.0 way of thinking. I don'’t want to have my own garden, a sort of mini I want to be a part of an ecosystem. There's no way we can compete with the big job boards fighting individual battles. We need to partner, create a distributed system, and win virally.

Now for the consumer, it doesn't matter any longer how many of these services are out there, since it's pretty simple to subscribe to each's feed and see everyone's postings. But for them, they can provide more value to customers (the job posters) by providing access to a larger audience. And that will drive up postings, causing a positive network effect spiral, and everyone wins!

Sellaband: Music Marketing or Music Market?

The Digital Music Weblog posted about an interesting website called Sellaband, which connects music groups with potential fans, not just for marketing, but for investing. According to TechCrunch,

The way it works is this: bands upload sample music to, promote the heck out of their profile page and ask fans to chip in $10 per share of a recording that will be produced when the band raises $50,000. The fans can take their money back out at any time before the goal is met.
From Sellaband,
The music on the CD will be given away as free downloads on our download portal. All advertising revenues generated on SellaBand will be shared equally between you, the other Believers, the Artist and SellaBand. The amount of money you and the band will get paid depends on the advertising revenues and the market-share your band gains on our download portal.

This seems really interesting, but not for its goal of viral advertising/marketing for indie artists, which companies have been trying to do since MySpace launched several bands' careers. What's great about this is that it forces content-driven communities to put their money where their mouth is. Who knows if the business model would work or not, but it could be the last step of democratizing the music industry, with easier tools for bands to find financial investors.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Contango: There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

NPR had a phenomenally interesting segment today on All Things Considered talking about todayÂ’s oil market. Its main premise was that todayÂ’s high oil prices are not caused by international conflicts (wars in the Middle East), or by surging demand from countries like India or China. Rather, it is due to an interesting phenomenon economists call contango, a scenario that occurs when a commodityÂ’s future price has a higher value than its current price (spot price).

Oil companies and others like to buy futures contracts to make sure they've got oil coming to them well into the future. But lately, people who have nothing to do with the oil industry are buying oil futures, holding them as can't-lose investments that can return well over 10 percent.

Investment banks from Morgan Stanley to Goldman Sachs are making so much money from oil futures that they've become a hot investment for all sorts of big-money players.

"I think if you saw all the pension funds walk away," says Ben Dell, an oil analyst at Sanford Bernstein, "you'd probably see a $20 drop in the crude price."

Why is this return not quickly arbitraged away? It shouldn’t be too unusual for future prices to be higher than today’s prices (especially considering inflation). According to Wikipedia, “The contango should equal the cost of carry (opportunity cost + warehousing/storage), because producers and consumers can compare the futures contract price against the spot price plus storage, and choose the better one. Arbitrageurs can sell one and buy the other for a risk-free profit too.”

Clearly I’m not a financial markets expert, but this whole contango argument seems to violate my favorite principle of economics: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch (really, follow the link – I love Wikipedia!) Some possible arguments for what could be causing this market failure:

  • International uncertainty
  • Limited supply of oil
  • Too many middlemen: All these i-banks buy the oil from Chevron, then sell futures back to Chevron. They make their high return, then Chevron can apply their standard margin back to the future oil. The margin on the higher prices just generates more revenue for the company.

Thoughts? Maybe someone understands the theory behind this and can help everyone out! I've never asked for comments before, but this one needs some input!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Do We Need More Service Providers?

Crunch - well, both TechCrunch and CrunchGear - reported today (Good Morning Silicon Valley has a great article as well) that Cisco Systems has recently acquired Arroyo Systems and Scientific Atlanta in order to develop Video-On-Demand services.

Cisco, a networking giant that makes very unsexy gear, also acquired Scientific-Atlanta and is working on both software and hardware for the series of tubes that will soon carry on-demand PR()N to all of our homes and businesses.

The major problems we’re facing right now are bandwidth issues and compression speed. Cisco’s efforts should streamline the process a bit and actually build a lot of the heavy lifting right into the hardware.

On the surface, this seems like just another major tech company trying to get into the on-demand game. Cisco seems to be in a very unique position to do this, but what kind of part would they play? It wouldn't seem like they would be a service provider, actually providing content to consumers.

Hopefully, content providers could spring up to take advantage of Cisco's VoD platform. Netflix/Tivo would not want to create the hardware involved with VoD delivery, and could potentially use what Cisco creates. Or maybe companies like YouTube could push their content (and communities) to the boxes!

The Next Cell Phones

Business Week has a great article on their website about what the next generation of cell phone will look like. Their big ideas:

  • Cell phones will be a key fashion accessory
  • People will choose phones that cater to their personal interests
  • Niche (read: Long-Tail ) phones will become more prevalent
  • "Communications Device" will replace "Cell Phones"

The big change the article predicts, however, is that new phones will be designed for a better user experience. And that can't come at a better time. With a few exceptions (like Treo/Blackberry), most of today's mobile devices are built on the same idea as a normal telephone. There's a dialing pad and a screen to see what you're working on. Additional features, like a camera and web browser, were built on top of that. As we get closer to "Wireless 2.0 ," however, new available features and usage will outstrip the current design, which could take many forms:

On Aug. 21, designer Pilotfish and sensor maker Synaptics are releasing a prototype of a cell phone, and the funny thing is, it doesn't have any buttons. Instead, the Onyx device understands signs and gestures, thanks to the sensitive touch pad covering most of its surface. It opens and closes applications when swiped by one or two fingers. The phone recognizes shapes and body parts. Lift Onyx to your cheek and it will pick up a call. "The goal of this concept was to show people a completely different way of designing and making a phone," says Mariel Vantatenhove, senior product line director at Synaptics . "We think that the market is ready for some sort of change."

New technologies drive many of the new designs. One example: Synaptics ClearPad, a new type of touch screen that will become commercially available later this year. Unlike today's touch screens, which aren't entirely transparent and often not very sensitive—we've all had to endlessly tap one with a stylus to get a response—ClearPad is clear, so it can be used as a sensitive overlay to a cell-phone display. Another innovation likely to change the cell-phone's appearance: flexible displays. An electronic ink screen prototype, developed by Koninklijke Philips Electronics and startup E-Ink, is thin and flexible like paper so it can be worn wrapped around a cell phone. Users can unwrap it to view a map on a larger screen. Eventually, the display could be used to watch video.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Google's web-based text editor, Writely , seems pretty decent, at first glance. It has all the basic things you would want with a good text editor - bullets, numbered lists, cut and paste, and hyperlinks. Spell check is nice, taking ideas from Word and underlining "misspelled" words (though I'm curious why "Writely" and "blgo" aren't pre-loaded into the dictionary). Ctrl-functions (cut, copy, paste) work well, though I would like to be able to drag highlighted text. Saving as PDF is especially nice.

One thing I really like is the way Writely merges typical word processing with web publishing. Posting documents to a blog is fairly easy, and I hope Google finds a way to reuse their Writely functionality with other text-entry applications, like Gmail and Blogspot. Users can modify the HTML code backing their page, and the hyperlink feature is pretty nice too - rather than simply entering a URL, it provides options for displaying text & flyover text, email links, and other documents.

Overall, I think this is a strong application, and may become a good blog editor for those blogs that have several people working on them. It won't replace Word (though you can save Writely documents into Word), but it's a good tool nonetheless.

ps - titles don't carry over for blog posts...

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Snakes, Delivered

As a very off-topic post, I went to see Snakes On a Plane last night. Expecting a boring, low-production movie, it was very surprising to be so entertained. It's clearly not an action movie, or a horror movie. It's pure comedy with a few jumps - and even the New York Times recommends it!

The film doesn't get off to a good start. We see an Asian Mafia coming after poor surfer dude, and poor surfer dude making the tough life decision to go testify against them. The fun starts about 20 minutes in, though, when the snakes are released. Any time you think "Is this movie really going to do that?" they do. They follow through, they deliver in every moment that you want them to. Samuel L is Samuel L, and it's always good to see a little Juliana Marguiles every now and then.

See the movie, and have a good time.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The Long Tail of Google Searches?

Ars Technica has a great article today about the "googlearchy," citing a study that refutes the idea that the more popular something is (the higher in the search results), the more popular it will become (the more sites will link to it).

Using data regarding page rankings from Yahoo and traffic figures from Alexa, the authors tested whether this expectation held up against real-world data. They plotted the traffic vs. inbound links in such a way that the slope of the line should reveal whether page rankings increased traffic. For sites that received anywhere from about 100 to 1,000,000 inbound links, traffic and links retained a linear relationship, but the slope was nothing like predictions. Traffic increased far less than would be expected if search engines were enhancing popularity. It actually increased less than would be predicted if traffic were directly proportional to inbound links. In the end, it appears that each inbound link only increases traffic by a factor of 0.8. The results suggest that the reliance of web users on search engines is actually suppressing the impact of popularity.

This becomes even more clear when the data outside this range is examined: both at the high and low end, the curves go flat. At the low end, this suggests that low-popularity sites are retaining traffic at a rate disproportionate to the number of places that link to them. Meanwhile, at the high end, sites seem to reach saturation; regardless of their inbound links and page ranks, they cannot expand their (already considerable) audience.

Chris Anderson will love this! Google obviously makes things easily searchable, and every website is equally accessible by its users. So it makes sense that the long tail of websites should be flatter than some people expect - and the perfect example of the long tail phenomenon!

Google Music Trends

This is the first music chart (Google Music Trends) I've seen where I really agree with people. That encourages me since it means that other Google Talk users (who in my mind are the tech-elite, since Google has the lowest usage stats and only the "elite" would have turned on this service already) have great music taste. I'll be checking in here pretty often to get tips for new tunes, like Muse, Thome Yorke, and Coldplay which seem to dominate so far.

One problem is that there no "all genre" group - so you can't tell which is more popular - Muse or Hum Tum, topping the Alternative and Hindi genres, respectively...

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Cell Carriers Frustrate All

Crippling devices is a cornerstone of differentiated pricing. Printer manufacturers are known to install chips to slow down printers - they can make one model, but charge different prices for different speeds. This makes a lot of sense, because consumers can pay for what they want in the market. What is frustrating is when a communications company cripples devices for control. I have high hopes for the future of "Wireless 2.0," where platforms that allow for open cooperation beat the pants off of those that try and control how users interact with the network.

Robert Cooper of O'Reilly On Java notes,

If you buy a V300 or RAZR or whatever from any major carrier, it comes crippled. They only want you to use ringtones, wallpaper and –god forbid– applications that they sell you. Lots of phones in the carrier specific versions are crippled beyond belief. I don’t think the fault is J2ME’s so much as the way we use cell phone networks.

I hate to bring the whole political aspect into this, but this is directly on point with the network neutrality debate and the Trusted Computing/Paladium issue: the hardware and the network should be there for what you want to use them for, not some highly managed, highly structured regime. One of the reasons I, personally, consider the NetNeutral intitiative important is I donÂ’t want my Cable Modem service to end up looking like the cell phone networks.

Google WiFi now Available!

I've been excited about this one for a long time. Google's been trying to stick it to the anti-Net Neutrality camp for a while, and now they're starting to do it.

As Engadget reported, Google's officially out of beta and launched their free WiFi service in Mountain View. It's the first step towards a ubiquitous, ever-present Internet that everyone can access, all the time. My guess is that even if this isn't free for long (or everywhere), a service like this will be incredibly valuable not only for consumers, but for entrepreneurs finding new ways to take advantage of being able to connect to the Internet no matter where you are.

To make it even better, Google's apparently been busy buying "dark fiber." Maybe this will be their end-run around the Telco's monopoly on the Internet. Hopefully Google won't be evil, and live by the Net Neutrality principles they've been pushing for so hard!

Skype For Pocket PC

CrunchGear just posted about the Skype PocketPC 2.1 with a better UI tailored for the mobile platform. I love how Skype has been addressing how their technology can be easily used by wireless devices over the past several months, and partnering with other companies to help promote the Skype platform.

Skype is a perfect example of an excellent "Wireless 2.0" company. By partnering and cooperating with other players in the market, they can build a better, open platform for IP communications. Allowing a plethora of devices to access their service gives manufacturers and consumers complete flexibility to meet their needs as they want.